Each year the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization convenes to determine which sites will be granted World Heritage status in recognition of their outstanding value to humanity. Sites are carefully selected based on six cultural and four natural criteria, ranging from masterpieces of human creative genius to landscapes of exceptional natural beauty.
The 2017 selections span time, geography, and culture—a treasure trove of new destinations to add to your travel wish-list. Discover the ancient ruins, cave paintings, religious ceremonies, and wildlife oases that reveal some of the most compelling chapters of human history.
THE ENGLISH LAKE DISTRICT
Found in northwest England, these picturesque landscapes were shaped by glaciers from the Ice Age and modern agricultural systems. The combination of nature and manmade scenery in the mountains, lakes, gardens, parks, and houses throughout the area inspired early preservation efforts of this and other landscapes.
Travel tip: Finding a place to stay within England's largest national park is no struggle with hotels, campsites, log cabins, cottages, and more to choose from. Rather than booking one of the area's many attractions on site, those booked online help preserve England's largest national park.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY NICK BODLE, UNESCO
SAMBOR PREI KUK
Sambor Prei Kuk, “the temple in the richness of the forest”, served as the capital of the Chenla Empire from the late 6th and early 7th centuries C.E. Octagonal temples, decorative sandstone, pediments, and colonnades are examples of pre-Angkor decorative styles that laid the foundation for Khmer art and architecture during the Angkor period.
Travel tip: Tour operators offer day tours to Sambor Prei Kuk from the major tourist hubs of Siem Reap (two to three hours, one-way) and Phnom Penh (three to four hours, one-way).
The Gelati Monastery and complex in central Georgia is one of the country's most treasured religious and cultural landmarks. Construction began in 1106, and the site is renowned for its collection of twelfth- to nineteenth-century mosaics, wall paintings, enamels, and metalwork.
Travel tip: Visit during the Sunday morning service to be treated to beautiful Georgian chants.
PHOTOGRAPH BY SIGURD DOEPPEL, GETTY IMAGE
Header: TAPUTAPUATEA On the lush volcanic island of Ra’iatea in the center of the Polynesian Triangle, forested valley, lagoon, and coral reef make up the property of Taputapuatea. In addition to its stunning natural features, the marae complex—a political, ceremonial and funerary center—is evidence of traditional Polynesian worship. PHOTOGRAPH BY STEPHEN ALVAREZ, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE